The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt regular order in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations process. Throughout May, members of the House and Senate deliberated how to proceed. At press time, leaders in the House and Senate had announced their intentions to consider or “mark up” FY 2021 appropriations bills in late June through early July. No word yet on when the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which funds the Census Bureau, will be considered within this time frame.
Action on FY 2021 appropriations bills was sidelined in May while Congress considered COVID-19 response emergency supplemental funding measures. Most notably, on May 15, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 208-199, passed H.R. 6800, the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act (HEROES Act). The bill included $400 million to cover COVID-related delays in the 2020 Census and an additional $10 million for the Current Surveys and Programs account to offset other COVID-related expenses. The bill also included language authorizing the Administration’s request to extend the 2020 Census schedule and delay the publication of apportionment and state redistricting data by 120 days. At press time, it was not clear when the Senate would draft and consider its own version of the HEROES Act.
On May 18, The Census Project released a letter signed by 89 national, state, and local organizations, urging Congress to support funding the Census Bureau and 2020 Census operations in FY 2021 and COVID-related emergency supplemental funding bills. The letter, which was named Politico magazine’s May 18th “Top Doc,” requested that Congress provide contingency funding in the current fiscal year, and funding above the Administration’s request in FY 2021 to accommodate the COVID-19-driven changes to Census operations.
Meanwhile, on May 8, Sen. Brian Schatz (D) led 15 Senators in urging Senate leadership to provide “additional funding for the Census Bureau” to specifically “address the operational changes to the 2020 Census in response to the current public health crisis,” and outlined a series of specific purpose to which the funds would be allocated.
On May 27, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced H.R. 7034, the Fair and Accurate Census Act. The bill would implement the Administration’s request to modify the statutorily required 2020 Census deadlines by 120 days due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the bill would require the Census Bureau to provide Congress with monthly operational and technological status reports and allow colleges and universities to provide necessary data to the Census Bureau—language similar to provisions in the HEROES Act. H.R. 7034 has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and House Committee on Education and Labor for further consideration. A similar measure has not yet been introduced in the Senate.
Census stakeholders have urged Congress to consider how the Census Bureau’s request to modify the statutory reporting deadlines for the 2020 Census will affect data quality, undercounted communities, and the ability of states to comply with the Voting Rights Act:
- The National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) wrote to the House Oversight & Reform Committee on May 14 urging vigorous Congressional oversight and “meaningful consultation” between the Census Bureau and states about these concerns.
- On May 5, The Leadership Conference and its Census Task Force Co-Chairs, NALEO Educational Fund and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC, sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Committee on Oversight and Reform urging Congress to take several oversight actions as they consider the Bureau’s requested extension.
- On May 12, the Census Counts campaign sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and House Committee on Oversight and Reform advocating for several operational enhancements needed to address disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter, signed by 143 organizations, recommended the Bureau take steps such as additional mailings, updating the communications campaign, and redesigning the Mobile Questionnaire Assistance operation, to ensure an accurate and fair 2020 Census.
A report from the Brennan Center for Justice also warned that any “delay in receiving census data will impact redistricting in most states” and may “require changes to deadlines and processes set by state law.”
Other Census Stakeholder Developments
While the COVID-19 crisis has led to historic delays in the 2020 Census, partners in the get-out-the-count operations are seeking improved Census Bureau transparency. Denice Ross of Georgetown University proposed several data streams that would be useful for the Bureau to provide that would help stakeholders get out the count.
The National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), Native American Rights Fund, and the National Urban Indian Family Coalition put out a flyer for safely counting native households, and NCAI also partnered with the Census Bureau on a how-to guide for virtual canvassing of Indian Country.
Census Bureau News
Throughout the month of May, the Census Bureau announced the resumption of various field operations (see below). Updated information about 2020 Census operational adjustments are on the Census Bureau home page.
Other significant Bureau news in May addressed 2020 Census response rates, population trends in the U.S. South and West, and responses to the ongoing Household Pulse Survey.
**REMINDER: Census Bureau advisory committee nominations due August 1**
As a reminder, through August 1, the Census Bureau is accepting nominations to fill three vacancies on its Census Scientific Advisory Committee (which was renewed on May 28) and eight vacancies on the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations.
Census Bureau Data Releases
News You Can Use
Below are several articles posted on The Census Project home page in May. For a complete listing, go to: https://thecensusproject.org/recent-media/.